PlatinumGames’ latest action adventure looks to be equal parts slick aesthetics and downright absurdities, but is Astral Chain an interdimensional triumph or a weak link in Nintendo’s roster?
Players take control of one of two twins living in a futuristic metropolis known as the Ark. Here, the last of mankind struggle on the brink of extinction from a cybernetic alien race invading Earth from their Tron like home, the Astral Plain. Mad, I know. The player, a cop reassigned to world saving specialists Neuron, are humanity’s only hope from this imminent doom. This is thanks to your trusty alien killing partner, or Legion; a captured alien tethered to you.
The whole thing is very anime inspired, which makes the story somewhat predictable and many of the characters archetypal. But if viewed as tongue in cheek tropes rather than ground-breaking storytelling, there’s still plenty of fun to be had; there’s even an anime-esque title sequence. The manga influenced art style feeds into this illusion whilst remaining unique and vibrant. The bright neon flair soaking the city’s streets, combined with synth-y techno that sounds like Japan’s answer to Vangelis, keep the concept and setting entertaining regardless of the plot’s shortcomings.
It’s a good thing too, as there’s plenty to get your teeth stuck into in the semi-open world. Collectibles, secret areas and conversations all play a part in exploring the Ark. There’s also crime scene investigations which serve as mini puzzles, as well as plenty of unpredictable side quests, ranging from mysterious and enticing to weird and wonderful. Even the Neuron HQ, which serves as the game’s hub area, offers some much-needed downtime between missions, in the form of chatting to the NPCs and customising the look of your character and Legion.
But the real meat and potatoes of the game is the hack ‘n’ slash combat. Easy to pick up but difficult to master would be the apt description for Astral Chain’s battles. The player can attack with a variety of melee and ranged weapons, but honestly there’s not a huge lot to it. Depth in mechanics comes in the form of the various Legion types at the player’s disposal. From a ranged archer type to a four-legged dog-like beast, the Legion can be adapted to defeat the various enemies which will be thrown at the player. But regardless of which type the player prefers, controlling both characters is incredibly intuitive and enjoyable. Some lite RPG mechanics such as ability customisation further mask the otherwise simple gameplay.
Astral Chain is perhaps one of the best games currently available for the Switch, but fails to reach the same levels of innovation and perfection which Nintendo showcase in their first party titles. Still, this interdimensional button masher has absolute heaps of character and charm.